Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m one of the very fortunate and blessed people who have many people to love. My wife, my daughters, my church and family and friends throughout the country. These people are dearer to me than my own life.

And, likely, you have people like that in your life too.

You have people whom you cherish; folks you’d trade your life for. And even though Valentine’s Day is the most fabricated pseudo-holiday we celebrate, it’s never a bad idea to let the people you love know that you love them. So make a point today to say “I love you” to those people.

But I want to give us (the Christians who visit this space) a moment of pause. Why? Because those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are called not only to love the ones we love, we are also called to love those we might be inclined to hate.

Jesus, in one of the clearest teachings in scripture, tells us, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Instruction in righteousness doesn’t get any more perspicuous than that. “Love your enemies.” There. Done. Over. Got it?

Jesus is telling us what we already know: Anybody can love the people they love and hate their enemies, but it takes someone with God on the inside to cut against the grain and love those they would otherwise hate. Even though Jesus is giving us a command, most of us treat it like it’s a nice idea that might be good to get around to…someday!

That’s why, some of our supposed American Christian leaders exhort the church to repeal and replace this basic tenet of Jesus’ to love both our neighbor and our enemy. Terrorists, secularists, those on the “other side” of politics, culture, religion and sexuality are objects to be hated and defeated, rather than the destination of God’s in-breaking love for the world flowing through his church.

In a strange way, these leaders are right in their pronouncements concerning the threat of secularization in America. Our country is becoming more secular; but the church may be leading the way! The failure to love our enemies leads away – not toward – the cross.

So what would a church look like that actually believed Jesus was giving a command when he said “Love your enemies”? Any ideas?

I’d love to hear them.

There are any number of scriptures we Christians don’t take seriously, but maybe none are taken less seriously than

Romans 12.18-20. Here, the apostle Paul instructs the church this way: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

Living at peace is tough business, and “Christian America” has particularly struggled with it in the wake of September 11, 2001. The reasons are obvious. We were struck! Hit! Devastated! All by an enemy that had long been at war with us, though many of us knew and cared very little about them. It felt reassuring to hear President George W. Bush tell New Yorkers — and the rest of the world — that the people who did this would hear from us. We needed protection from the twisted minds that could envisage, plan, and celebrate the kind of destruction visited New York, Washington, and Shanksville, PA. Innocent people were targeted, children were killed, families undone. It was a slaughter, pure and simple. And in some sectors of the world, there was dancing in the streets.

It was no wonder then that so many of us — Christians, that is — supported combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did! And I wasn’t shocked to learn, even years after 9/11, that the majority of Christians supported torture in some instances. It’s not that we’re evil or vengeful, it’s that we’re human. We have spouses and children; parents and grandparents; friends and classmates that we love, that we want to protect and we have a country we want to flourish. What’s more, many of us believe that God has blessed us to live in the best, most humane, most prosperous and healthy country in the history of the world. And we want the best of that country to live forever and would love for others around the world to enjoy the benefits and blessings of our system. In sum, the September 11th attacks came from a place of evil, and as scripture teaches, evil must be resisted.

But the scriptures teach us about peace too.

I don’t find the New Testament to be naive concerning nations, nation-states, war and violence. There are times, unfortunately, when nations go to war. These times should be entered into soberly and with careful thought.

But most Christians, in our day-to-day actions, are not at war. Though our nation be at war with Muslim extremists, I am not at war with my Muslim neighbor. As a matter of fact, taking Jesus seriously means my neighbor is the one whom I am called to love. And much like a nation, I can only be at war with my neighbor if I choose to be.

Which I why I find the weeds of Christian/Muslims enmity which have sprung from the earth recently perplexing. As mentioned above, the apostle Paul’s instructions are very clear, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means that you and I can choose to be people of peace, to be agents of peace, to be extensions of peace. In the verse previous to this the apostle instructs us saying, “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” This is a radical, counter-cultural call to peace-making. But it’s far more than that, it’s a call to sacrifice. In this very same chapter of Romans, Paul exhorts us to “bless those who persecute you” and “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” This, for Paul, is worship.

You and I can have our opinions regarding the propriety and necessity of when and where our nation goes to war, but that’s not my primary concern. After all, where two or more are gathered, there will be opinions. My primary concern is when you and I as individuals and in our Christian communities decide to go to war with our neighbors (or stand silently by when others do). I’m concerned about Qu’ran burnings in the name of Jesus and Mosques being vandalized. The apostle Paul assumes that those that you might be tempted to war against don’t share your values, but he calls us to peace anyway. He takes it for granted that evil has been visited upon you, he asks us to extend peace in return.

And Paul can do this for one reason: He believes in God. He believes that if there is vengeance to be paid, God is the one to pay it. I wonder sometimes if our reflex for violence and vengeance is a subtle suggestion that we think God isn’t competent to the task.

So this September 11th, I urge you, my fellow, fallible, fumbling followers of Christ, to do whatever you can to live at peace; to call your communities of faith to live in peace. Paul says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is living at peace.

This Saturday, September 11th, as a member of Board of Directors for the Peninsula Clergy Network, I am joining clergy from across the Peninsula Bay Area for a ‘Day of Remembrance’, honoring those who suffered and died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Our program is simple, at the Redwood City Courthouse, we are providing a space for reflection, remembrance and prayer. There will be no speeches, no stumping, and, thank heavens, no books aflame.

There will be men and women there from every faith and creed. Why? Because only the twisted and insane rejoice in death, whichever faith they claim. I don’t believe our silent vigil this Saturday will change much, globally speaking. But I do believe that we can make a small statement about the things we share.

If you live in the area, please come out and join me. I’ll be manning the station from 8-9AM, this Saturday, September 11.

People question my insistence that preachers should ditch their points. Points, I have argued, are planted and buried with story, whispers and the inspiring word. People don’t need or want step-by-step directions and we’re not interested in the points. Do you need proof? Just think about the last time you read a “User License Agreement” on a computer program. Oh, wait, you didn’t read it. The reason is simple, you want to get on to engagement. Engagement rarely comes in 1…2…3. Below is perhaps the greatest proof ever.

New nuclear doctrine a step toward a morally sound nuclear policy

Evangelical Christians call Nuclear Posture Review a “welcome attempt to marry idealism and realism”

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Today, Evangelical Christians welcome the Obama administration’s long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review as a step toward a morally sound nuclear policy.  Coming just a year and one day after President Obama’s historic speech in Prague, where he articulated a firm commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review represents the administration’s first comprehensive outline of the precise ways in which that commitment will impact U.S. nuclear policy.
“The Nuclear Posture Review is a welcome attempt to marry idealism and realism. This is Ronald Reagan’s vision, translated into policies that meet the needs of our post-Cold War, post-9/11 era,” said the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, an expert on the ethics of nuclear weapons policy and Director of the Two Futures Project, a growing movement of American Christians dedicated to the moral imperative of nuclear abolition.
“In an age of global terrorism, the Nuclear Posture Review recalibrates our nuclear policy around the preeminent goal of non-proliferation and takes seriously the need for U.S. leadership in that global effort,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson said.
Among the changes in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review:
·      No use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Nuclear posture

·     Significant reductions of the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy
·     Changes in nuclear command structure to help prevent accidental launch
·     A commitment to reduce Cold War-levels of nuclear arsenals
·     Firm restrictions on when nuclear weapons can be used
·     Elimination of obsolete weapons systems
·     Rejection of new nuclear weapons programs
“The stated retention of first-strike capacity against states caught violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty seems to be a tactical move to deter nuclear breakout in states like Iran. But for this policy to have any claim to a moral foundation, it must move us toward the position where proliferation crises are resolved and the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack against us or our allies—which must in turn serve as an interim ethic that seeks the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson said.
The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was released just days before President Obama and Russian President Medvedev will meet in Prague to sign a treaty committing to deep reductions in each country’s nuclear arsenals—and a week before the President convenes a meeting of 47 heads of state in Washington to seek their commitment to secure loose nuclear materials.
“The use of even one nuclear weapon would cause indiscriminate death and destruction and threaten uncontrollable escalation, both of which are anathema in the just war tradition,” said Rev. Wigg-Stevenson. “The moral imperative is to do everything possible to ensure that no nuclear weapon is ever used, whether in war, terrorism, or by accident—which requires taking concrete, threat-reducing steps toward their multi-lateral, verifiable, and complete elimination.”
Founded a year ago, the Two Futures Project has already ushered in a new era of engagement from American Christians on nuclear issues.  The organization has garnered endorsements from a long list of nationally-known figures, including church leaders like Bill and Lynne Hybels, founders of Willow Creek Community Church; megachurch pastor Joel Hunter; Rob Bell, influential communicator and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church; and Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals; Christian media elite, including Cameron Strang, publisher of Relevant magazine, and David Neff, Editor in Chief of Christianity Today magazine; leaders of national organizations and denominations, such as Samuel Rodriguez, President of the 16-million-member National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners; Noel Castellanos, President of the Christian Community Development Organization; Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church; and political leaders like former Secretary of State George Shultz, Ambassador James Goodby, and former Congressman and Ambassador, Tony Hall. (See http://twofuturesproject.org/endorsements for a complete list.)
“In the past year, I’ve crisscrossed the country, meeting with thousands of Bible-believing Christians who share the conviction that the threat of nuclear weapons is antithetical to the claims of our faith in the twenty-first century,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson stated.  “Just as Evangelicals have been at the helm of historic movements to abolish slavery and fight global poverty, Christians are at the vanguard of a new movement to lift the nuclear shadow once and for all.”
For more information about the Two Futures Project, visit http://twofuturesproject.org — Twitter http://twitter.com/2FP — Facebook: http://facebook.com/twofuturesproject

Last night I had the privileged and honor of viewing a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled, Countdown To Zero.  The film documents (as you might conclude from it being a “documentary”) the necessity of reducing the world’s  22,000+ nuclear weapons to the whopping sum of ZERO . Those of you who know me and read this blog know that this issue – nuclear reduction – is increasingly becoming a passion of mine.  I have previously blogged about the issue here and here. And Countdown To Zero has only increased my desire to invite you to join in this cause along with me.

On the face of things, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems far-fetched, naïve and even crazy. Yet truth be told, some very serious men and women are working toward it and have been for some time. These “crazy, hippie, utopian dreamers” include George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn, 70% of living former Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisors. This list also includes John McCain, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. And much of it began with Ronald Reagan.  These names alone should hearten us that the issue is non-partisan, realistic, and, most importantly, doable. No one, I think, has ever considered George Schultz gullible or utopian. Yet rather than rehearsing the reasons for non-proliferation and reduction, please read my friend, Tyler’s, insightful and thorough essay here.

What I need from you, and what the world needs from you, is to keep your eye out for this movie. The film is high quality, informative, troubling and oddly inspiring. I have seen it, hope to see it again next month and will proudly take people from my family, church and community to see it in the theatre this summer. If you live in NorCal, hit me up and we’ll go together.

While you’re waiting for the release, go ahead and educate yourself. Start with Two Futures Project. Sign-up to receive e-mail and get involved. Then cruise over to Global Zero. If you really want to get nerdy, hop over to the Nuclear Security Project. Next, sign-up for twitter and follow the guys: @seanpalmer, @armscontrolnow, @nukes_of_hazard, @cirincione, @TylerWS, @globalzero, and especially @2FP.

It is my hope and plan to help engage Christians around this issue. In fact, if — and some people say it’s only a matter of time until “when” — a nuclear weapon is discharged, none of the other good works that occupy our prayers and labors will matter. Let’s work together to change the world for good.